Squares through time
Over the years Northampton has lost a number of its squares, some completely and remembered only in street name, others have shrunk to a size significantly less than their former extent and others have succumbed to traffic thoroughfares.
The public square has been important through history, and we can trace its origins from at least the Roman city forum. Squares either evolved due to the convergence of a number of key roads or were created as part of a wider town or city plan. It more recent times because squares are more for the benefit and meeting of people they have conflicted with the needs of the automobile. When a square is allowed to remain it either becomes isolated by perimeter roads or transected into multiple parts by new roads.
Over time squares also suffer from shrinkage due to fill-in or encroachment from the sides. We can see examples of all of these situations in the present state of Northampton’s squares.
Where are the squares?
This is not a comprehensive list of squares and does not include some of the smaller ones that were once peaceful islands in an otherwise compact Victorian residential street scene. These are the examples we will visit:
St Giles Square
Figure 1: The locations of a selection of Northampton’s squares
The first group of squares: Abington Square, Campbell Square and St Giles Square all emerged as a convergence of roads and became significant meeting places for trade, entertainment or stallholders social gathering. Abington Square lies at the junction of the Kettering and Wellingborough Roads, where at the western end they join the extended medieval high street which we know as Abington Street. When the town walls were enlarged to their medieval extent Abington Square was immediately outside the western gate.
Figure 2: Regents, Campbell and St Giles Squares – Speed 1611 map
Campbell Square lies on the Mounts at the summit of the hill that overlooks the old town and immediately beyond the perimeter of Holy Sepulchre churchyard. It was the convergence of Campbell Street, Upper Mounts and Church Lane. St Giles Square is a much smaller square today than earlier times and lies at the junction of Derngate, Guildhall Road and St Giles Street and like Campbell Square lies beyond the perimeter of a churchyard, in this case, All Saints. Speed’s 1611 map suggests that this square was much wider in the 17th century with the buildings on the south side lying further south on their plots. It is also likely that both of these locations were in former times were used for livestock sales. On Speed’s 1611 map Campbell Square shows what appear to be sheep hurdles similar to one also appearing in Cow Meadow. All three squares remained important meeting places and centres of entertainment in the late 19th century as they were for a time all venues of visiting circuses and even “attractions” like bear-baiting.
Figure 3: Grafton Square at the entrance to St Andrew’s Priory – Speed 1611 map
Grafton Square and Regents Square both lay on the north side of the medieval town adjacent to the north wall. Regents Square was immediately inside the North Gate where Sheep Street and Broad Street converge. This area was formerly known as North End and appears as such on Noble and Butlin’s 1746 map. Grafton Square was at the junction of Crane Hill, Todds Lane (both later together known as Grafton Street) and St Andrews Street alongside the internal alignment of the north town wall. The square was the area immediately in front of the entrance to St Andrews Priory rather than being an exit point from the town. Many of the buildings and the intact boundary wall of the priory can still be seen on the 1611 map, the priory having been dissolved in 1538.
Figure 4: Regents Square – Law 1847 map
Figure 5: The Green – Noble & Butlin 1747 map
The final group of “squares”: The Green, Mayorhold and Market Square have one thing in common. They were at one time the main focal point of the town, but each was succeeded by the next as the town expanded further eastwards. The Green, now completely lost under a car park was the Saxon town’s green, close by St Peter’s Church. It remained as a street name until St Peters Way was constructed. 18thcentury maps show that the area had already been encroached upon and by 1746 was probably less than half its original size.
Figure 6: Mayorhold – Noble & Butlin 1747 map
The Mayorhold replaced The Green in importance in the early medieval period when the medieval walls were built to enclose the enlarged town. It lay near the north-south alignment of Horsemarket where it passed through the earlier town defences. Speed’s 1611 map shows the Marhold (Mayorhold) as a key focal point of the road network with no fewer than eight thoroughfares converging at this point. Nearby the town’s first town hall is known to have stood in Scarletwell Street. For those that were born or lived in the streets radiating from the Mayorhold, and known locally as “The Boroughs”, it was their square. The Mayorhold retained its importance in some respects until the 1970s and prior to its final disappearance under a dual-carriageway, it was a secondary departure point for a number bus and coach operators serving the town.
Figure 7: Market Square – Speed 1611 map
Of course, for most residents of the town, the Market Square was and remains the central feature of the town. We know from an order made by the king in 1235 that the market was established on the open space to the north of All Saints, it had previously been the practice to hold markets in the churchyard and within All Saints itself. In the 15th century the square acquired a market cross which appears on Speed’s map but was lost during the 1675 fire. A water pump was added early in the 19th century but was moved to Cheyne Walk in 1863 when the square gained a cast-iron fountain which survived until one year short of its centenary. In the 19th and 20th centuries, it was the scene of many social and political gatherings, speeches, military musters and parades apart from its regular use for its primary purpose as an open market.
Described by Henry Lee, town clerk of Northampton in “Collections of Henry Lee, Town Clerk of Northampton 1662–1715”, MS. Top. Northants, c.9. p. 94. (Bodl. Lib.) ↑
Calendar of Close Rolls 1234-7 p206-7 (Henry III) ↑
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